Dear Fellow Cisters – It Wasn’t A Penis What Did It, It Was A Man (CN/TW)

This post is one of the most personal I have written, and yet at the same time is not really about me. Nevertheless it discusses rape so I urge you first and foremost to take care of yourselves.

I am cis-gendered. When gender and genitals, or gender and sex, are conflated, it is not I who is hurt by it. By sharing this, my small hope is that I can help and support – not hinder or speak for or over – the transgender sisters, gender queer and gender fluid folk whose identities are too often questioned . (If  I fail to get that balance right, please tell me.) There is another woman I want particularly to stand in solidarity with today too…

Although I don’t follow the writer Sarah Ditum on twitter, I saw this tweet a little while after she had sent it, and for some time now it has been on my mind – or rather, how to frame a response to it has been on my mind. Whilst I had been aware of a feminism that framed rape in such a context I had rarely seen it put so bluntly. However I wasn’t sure if I could find the language for how it troubled me, without either attacking Ditum (which would be counter productive and needless given that we had almost no previous interaction), or talking over the transgender women whose narrative is their own to frame.

Tacking rape culture – calling it out, speaking up, joining my voices with other women’s to challenge it and break it down to help work toward a society where everyone can live more safely – is something I have been doing more and more recently. There are many reasons why I have become more engaged in that conversation, not the least of them being that I was raped repeatedly by a former boyfriend during an abusive relationship. More accurately, it was less to do with the fact of being raped than it was about not being believed, and the attitudes which I (like so many other women) have faced as we struggle to process when they try and deal with what has happened to them.

I chose not to report what happened. We weren’t living together, and it was harder even than now for women raped by their partners to get justice: marital rape had only just become illegal following the 1991 R v R ruling, and the prevailing attitude within law enforcement to domestic abuse and rape not exactly encouraging. Yet whilst I knew that the chances of a conviction were remote, this was not the prevailing reason why I chose not to report.


One of the things which I am most grateful to twitter for is how it has helped me both re-engage with my feminism, and helped to confront within myself both how white and cis-normative it had been. My relationship with feminism (not unlike many women) has been complicated, and it was my Christian faith which also played a big part in helping to re-frame it. Like many women of faith, we find no contradiction at all between the call of Christ and our feminism. And like Christ, the call of standing with and for ‘the least of these’ sharpens both our praxis and narrative as feminists.

And whilst I struggle to understand why some people want to define women in conservative ways, and deny to women who they are because of being assigned male at birth, I have to be honest and say that it was not for that reason initially that Ditum’s tweet bothered me so much. Nor was it the fact that my ex-boyfriend also used numerous objects to rape me with, although memories reared their head when I read it. It was because it was so entirely at odds with what I thought even the most ardent anti-trans feminist understood: that rape is not a crime of sex, but a crime based of the abuse of power.

My ex raped me. He could have chosen not to. He could have chosen to walk away, to sod off somewhere and find a more constructive channel for his never-ending quest for control; he chose instead to manipulate me and demonstrate power over me. He could have chosen to question why he wanted those things, he could have chosen to explore within himself why he wanted my humiliation through repeated violations, rather than my comfort and happiness.

Instead he made a choice to hurt me because that was what he wanted. His penis didn’t make that decision. He did. Reducing men’s decision to rape to the random behaviour of a set of genitalia diminishes what rape is, and makes it harder for its victims to name the problem and reclaim the agency and autonomy being raped has taken from them.

But I am not the only woman who has been raped, for whom such penis-orientated attitudes have made the ability to find comfort and community so much harder, even amongst other women. In a sense, Ditum’s comment was just the visible tip of the iceberg of dangerous and bad assumptions which make it harder for women to be believed, even by other women.

Some of you reading this may be aware of a trans*gender woman, a twitter engineer called Dana McCullum who was recently convicted of raping her wife. McCullum raped and violated her wife, not because she has a penis, but because she chose to exercise power and control in an abusive manner.

But the truly appalling aspect of this is not that McCullum is transgender. It is that that focus on this aspect (which happened because feminists forgot what rape is truly about), took away the support that should have been accorded to her wife.

So now I want you to read her story, the one she has had to tell because we helped to make it harder for her. I want you to listen to her, to her story, to the struggle she has had to find agency and identity. I stand in solidarity with her.

When we think that rape is about genitals and sex, we don’t just make stopping it harder. We make it harder for the victim, for the one person we are supposed to be there for. I know that we all want rape to stop. We all want rape culture dismantled so that the women and children on the receiving end of rape and abuse to be safer than we were. We want rapes victims to have all the support they deserve so that they can heal.

But we won’t do that if we are not honest, with ourselves and with each other. If we want to ‘name the problem’ then we actually have to understand it so that we can name it correctly: it was a man who raped me, not a penis;  and it was a woman who raped M, not a penis. The name of the problem is not ‘penis’.

It’s name is patriarchy.

Dear Michael Portillo: A Challenge to Rape Myths Is Not A Challenge to Free Speech

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”  George Orwell


Freedom of speech – that is, the right to express an opinion without restraint, or fear of being censored – is something which people value. The fundamental ability to be able to give voice to our individuality, to speak what we think without fear of sanctions, intimidation or threats of violence, and express beliefs however unpopular, is something we all prize.

Given that this is a right that white cis-gendered men have little problem accessing here in the West, and a right that they have indeed taken for granted, the irony of a privileged white man voicing concerns that freedom of speech is under attack because some women have called out a rape myth is.. well, really very unedifying .  As trans* and cis gendered women on the internet know only too well, being able to speak without fear of being targeted by people who have no problem threatening them physically and sexually, and abusing them on the grounds of gender, race and sexuality is still a right which has yet to be acknowledged – let alone accorded.

It was with some degree of self-restraint therefore, that I failed to throw a heavy object through my television last night when Michael Portillo expressed his concern that the BBC had issued an apology in the wake of remarks by Michael Buerke, prior to the transmission of the Moral Maze on Wednesday evening, which discussed whether or not Ched Evans – the convicted rapist who once played football for Sheffield United – should be allowed to return to professional football.  Portillo, it should be noted (who is not on Twitter and probably not aware of the value, worth and effectiveness of online activism), was also on that Moral Maze programme, and his position could be fairly described as being in favour of Ched Evans returning to football.

However it is specifically his remarks at the start of last nights ‘This Week’ programme – on which he is a weekly panellist – that I am addressing.

Essentially Portillo felt that the ‘twittersphere’ (who by implication are some sort of nameless mob) had levered an apology by itimidation from the BBC for Michael Buerke’s remarks, that this was an issue of free speech which the BBC had a duty to preserve, and that these storms of protest acted to limit what people could say.[Note: Once it is available on iPlayer again (for some reason it is currently not available), you will be able to listen to what he says, but I think that what I have given here is a fair summation.]

First – and foremost – the reason that Michael Buerke’s comments caused such upset and were rightly challenged both by individuals and groups such as Rape Crisis and Ending Victimisation and Blame, was because they are well worn, and highly damaging, rape myths which effectively lay the blame for the rape on the behaviour of the victim. In the context of the way in which victims of rape generally – and the woman raped by Ched Evans specifically in this particular instance – face condemnation and judgement because of those myths, challenging comments which were at best insensitive was the right thing to do.

In the context of the torrent of abuse and harassment which family and supporters of Evans have metered out to Evans victim – a woman who may have to change her identity for a second time – this was in no sense an issue of free speech.

Rape silences its victims every day. I would therefore ask Michael Portillo if genuinely believes that there is a ‘right’ to speak an opinion which enables a culture to silence victims of rape? Is he aware that [CN] those who claim to believe in free speech [TW/CN] refuse to accept that rape myths are just that, and do not recognise or understand the damage they do?

In order to live in a world where everyone can be safe and free, and individuals free to speak, there are times where we must understand where our priorities lay – and we must not be afraid to stand by those priorities. The BBC were right to issue an apology.

Why @SarahVine Is Wrong About Rape & Saying So Is Not “Monstering”

I am all for nuance in debate and discussion – nuance can and should serve to provide richer and deeper understandings when exploring an idea, a situation, a problem. Nuance is good.

In the last couple of days there has been much reaction to Judy Finnigan’s comments about the footballer Ched Evans case on the ITV show Loose Women. After serving 2 years of a 5 year sentence, Evans is about to be released, and the suggestion that he might return to Sheffield United to resume his footballing career has met with a great deal of anger.

Finnigan suggested that Evan’s crime might not be considered as serious because “…he didn’t cause any bodily harm to the person. It was unpleasant, in a hotel room I believe, and she had far too much to drink. That is reprehensible, but he has been convicted and he has served his time. When he comes out, what are we supposed to do, just actually to refuse to let him do his job even though he’s already been punished?”

There was, inevitably, a good deal of anger at these remarks and Finnigan later apologised. Enter stage left Sarah Vine in the Daily Mail today, who was (to summarise) insisting that Finnigan was right, that she wasn’t defending Evans; it was all about feminist ideologues dismissing ‘nuance’ in the debate; that those who disagree and speak up for the victims ‘monster’ people like Judy Finnigan and Sarah Vine, and that this ‘wasn’t very sisterly’ of them.   Um.

There is so much wrong with this article which is – as @EVB_Now rightly pointed out this morning – so destructive, that it is hard to know where to begin.  But let’s start with the Sarah Vine confusing rape myths with ‘nuance’, because she clearly does not grasp why the myths which are perpetuated in this article are not about providing richer and deeper understandings, but about the very things which keep the emphasis on the victims behaviour.

Radhika Sanghani in the Telegraph yesterday covered the myths which both Judy Finnigan, and Sarah Vine in defence of her, propagate with their comments and article. What I particularly want to address is why these myths continue, and why these myths – which so effectively keep the focus on the behaviour of the victim – continue to dominate the narrative because of peoples failure to take in to account the effect on the victim.

Whether it is Sarah Vine, or Richard Dawkins, or various people with large media platforms insisting that some rapes are worse because more physical violence might be used, or because it was a stranger, or because ‘she was drunk and it just got out of hand…’ – these ideas are treated as reasonable (or as giving the debate ‘logic’ or ‘nuance’) because the impact on the victim is not taken in to account. 

One of the most damaging myths about rape is about how a victim is supposed to behave. This not only makes it harder for victims like the woman raped by Ched Evans, who was vilified, attacked and ‘outed’ on social media, but once again warps the understanding about the impact on the victim and makes it one of the most difficult crimes to prosecute.

In the context of these, and similar issues, a nuanced discussion would consider why society finds it so difficult to consider the victim (an issue almost unique to crimes involving rape and sexual assault). A nuanced discussion would look more deeply at why we find it easier to critique the behaviour of the victim that what we can, as a society, do to change how we raise our boys and why men rape. A nuanced discussion would look at this, at much more besides, in a more honest and raw way.

To state all this, to say that Judy Finnigan and Sarah Vine are both absolutely wrong, and to challenge what they say because it can and should be challenged, is not to ‘monster’ anyone. (And nor is ‘un-sisterly’ –  that was a particularly manipulative thing for Sarah Vine to say.)

Sometimes I Am Rage, Sometimes I Am Grace 2: Faith, Hope and @BoxerGifts Rape ASBO’s

(This dude is apparently a journalist…a man who clearly knows how to do better feminism whilst at the same time trashing the woman…)

Because a woman speaks and therefore ‘shut-the-fuck-up’ is the knee jerk response…

And then of course there are the comments left by ‘Dawn-possibly-Thomas’… and although I deleted them immediately, there were a few rather more traditional ‘calling a woman cunt/bitch/whore’ comments (although they did at least call me a Christian cunt/bitch/whore, so I suppose I should be flattered that they recognised me as a woman of faith).

It occurred to me quite quickly that if these fake ASBO’s were truly harmless; if they weren’t in fact products of a mind which can make light of, excuse and joke about rape; if they really were just some silly thing over which I were wasting my time..

Why go to all the trouble of trying to shut me up? Why put me down, why patronise and belittle me? 

Now, I know that as far as actual abuse online goes, the above is nothing: I may be a woman, but I am protected by my cis-gender and my whiteness, and what I have experienced is nothing compared to many cis and trans*gender women of colour.

Nevertheless it is interesting to me the efforts these men will make to shut a woman up for something over which I am – apparently – wasting my time.

The petition – because even if Boxer Gifts/Silly Prezzies/’Dawn-possibly-Thomas’ doesn’t withdraw that bloody ASBO from sale, I’m not going to shut up. Not now. Not ever.